For virtually all intents and purposes, those of us who work in the sales industry now have remote sales as our only option to continue driving business. Around the globe, stress levels related to quarantine have taken a toll on efficiency and introduced new problems to solve—but this may present an opportunity for growth. The key here lies in effectively communicating not only with customers, but within one’s own sales team.
Sales expert Mike Simmons, Founder of Catalyst Sale, spent some time giving us his take on what it will take to move forward:
- Communicate your availability
In remote work, whether you’re operating as an individual employee or managing a team, you must set clear communication boundaries. It's easy to stay online 24 hours a day when you're remote; the office becomes a temptation that is always nearby, so find time for breaks. Determine and communicate clear parameters with your colleagues regarding how and when they can reach out to you.
Simmons, for example, makes it a point that he’ll respond to messages within 24 hours. If something's urgent, there are other ways to get a hold of him with real-time communication tools like Slack. As individual reps and sales leaders operating out there in this climate, it's important that you give your team space—and that you reserve some space for yourself. Space, in this case, means time away from work.
- Listen to the silent gestures
Let's remove COVID from the equation. How do you engage with customers? More and more people are turning on the webcam, and some customers today are much more comfortable getting on video calls. Take advantage of this by noting nonverbal communication cues. Are they leaning into the conversation—smiling, nodding, staying engaged? If they're not, then what will you change about the way you're presenting, demoing, sharing information or asking questions? Tools like Zoom generally allow you to pin videos from the person with whom you’re conferencing so that their video is always front and center.
If, for any reason, you’re not able to video-chat and you find yourself on a telephone call, now is the time to really hone in on verbal cues. Make sure you pause at the end of each question so that your client has an adequate opportunity to respond. Sales representatives often get uncomfortable with that moment of silence, quickly acting to clarify their question further—even when it’s not necessary to do so—as a sort of conversational crutch, but conversations take two parties. Make sure you’re not dominating yours. Giving your customers ample chances to express themselves can reduce your risk of losing them halfway through a sales call.
- Focus on what matters
Remember what’s important. A number of sales leaders, particularly those who manage teams in an office, are accustomed to the convenience of bringing people together physically. Leadership, as we're seeing revealed now, is about much more than making sure everybody's in a cubicle, or tapping on somebody's shoulder to ask them how everything’s moving along. In remote work, the most common knee-jerk response to a change of pace such as this is to obsessively track the activities one would otherwise be able to monitor directly: how many calls, how many updates, how many emails into Salesforce in a day? Unless you were already using them before COVID, those are all vanity metrics; and even if you were, they are not the ultimate test of productivity. Continue to focus on the things that matter, and work backwards from there. For instance, if you have a revenue number you're working toward, what will it take to get there? If the answer is to close a certain amount of business, then what will it take to do that? If proposals, then what will it take to make those proposals happen? And so on. Reverse engineer a method based on your end goal rather than focusing on funnel metrics, which can be unduly distracting.
Overall, remember to focus on the fundamentals of making sales; and after that, consider the idiosyncrasies of your virtual platforms. Just don’t be transfixed by COVID—you can’t make it go away, but you can work around it. Clarity around the expectations of folks on your team, their channels for communicating with you and one another, and how often those updates need to be communicated will serve you best. Still, keep in mind the intensity of the situation we're working through so that your expectations remain realistic. Salespeople are people: right now, they need to be motivated, not demotivated. And though most are guilty of checking those metrics from time to time, it can be perfectly healthy as long as you’re careful to strike a balance. Everyone is busy and under stress, but we as sales professionals have the power to help our customers by being better project managers.